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Speech at the New Colombo Plan reception in Singapore

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New Colombo Plan reception in Singapore Speech, check against delivery

20 May 2014

Introduction and welcoming remarks

Thank you, High Commissioner

Your Excellency, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, President of the Republic of Singapore, Mr Andrew Robb, Minister for Trade and Investment, Your Excellency, High Commissioner Philip Green, Members of the Parliament of Singapore, Distinguished guests and alumni, Ladies and gentlemen.

Good evening and thank you for your warm welcome.

It’s great to be in Singapore, and even better to be here among such a large group of Australian Alumni.

I want you to know how special it is for us as Australians to host people from other countries at our universities.

Overseas students bring an extra dimension to the life of Australian universities.

They develop bonds between Australians and our friends from abroad. And overseas students become, I hope, Ambassadors for Australia - sharing the experiences they had in Australia when they go home and building links that can support tourism, trade and investment in our region.

So overseas students, and the alumni they become, are important to us.

And students from Singapore are particularly important to us.

The High Commissioner tells me that there are more than 100,000 Singaporeans who have degrees from Australian universities.

That is a phenomenal number. I’m told there are only about 4 million Singaporeans - so 1 in 40 has a degree from an Australian university!

That may well be the closest education relationship between any two countries globally.

Ladies and gentlemen, the event this evening is designed to indicate how eager we are to link up with you - the Alumni of Singapore - to stay connected and to use the network of the Singaporeans who have previously studied in Australia.

That network is held together by the alumni organisations of individual universities - and I am told that over 30 such alumni organisations -from every state and territory in Australia - are represented here tonight.

I want to thank each of those alumni leaders and their committees for the work they do to keep Singaporeans in touch with their Australian university.

I particularly want to thank those who serve the Australian Alumni of Singapore.

Tonight, I am pleased to acknowledge the immediate past President of the Australian Alumni of Singapore, Mr Loh Hoon Sun, for his tremendous work for the AAS over 20 years.

I also want to welcome and congratulate Mr Chris Cheah, who last month became the new President of the AAS.

Now, I could tell I was going to get along well with Mr Loh and Mr Cheah.

When I read their biographies, I saw that both Mr Loh and Mr Cheah are graduates of The University of Queensland.

Now, I am a graduate of Griffith University in the great state of Queensland.

And I am also a Senator for the State of Queensland.

So, High Commissioner, I’m pleased to have you - as a graduate of The University of Sydney - to show that we have a proper ‘balance of power’ between the states of Australia here tonight!

Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, a crucial part of the history of Singaporean students attending Australian universities was the original Colombo Plan - an initiative of the former Menzies Government of Australia.

From the 1950s to the mid-1980s, the original Colombo Plan brought many hundreds of Singaporeans to attend universities in Australia.

The original Colombo Plan played an important part in the development of some of Singapore’s finest leaders, including former President Ong Teng Cheong, Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Minister Iswaran and the current head of the Singapore civil service, Peter Ong.

We think so highly of the original Colombo Plan that the Australian Government has now initiated the New Colombo Plan.

Under the New Colombo Plan, thousands of young Australians will now have the opportunity to spend a part of their university degrees in the Indo-Pacific region.

Background and purpose of the New Colombo Plan

Ladies and gentlemen, driven by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, the New Colombo Plan is a signature policy initiative of the Australian Government which recognises that our future is closely intertwined with the Indo-Pacific region.

At its heart, the New Colombo Plan is about giving Australian students the opportunity to engage in the region, to gain study and work experience, to understand the cultures of our neighbours and to build lasting friendships and contacts.

By achieving these outcomes at the individual level, we are also laying the groundwork to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific more broadly in Australia, to strengthen our people-to-people and institutional linkages and to develop close and enduring relationships with our neighbours.

Operation of the New Colombo Plan pilot phase in Singapore

And that is where we find ourselves today, almost half way through this pilot year of the New Colombo Plan, which was launched by Minister Bishop last December.

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Through a combination of mobility grants and a scholarship program, the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan supports Australian undergraduate students to pursue study and work experiences in the 4 pilot destinations of Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan.

Crucially, the New Colombo Plan is a partnership between Australia and our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific and I am very pleased that Singapore has warmly welcomed the New Colombo Plan.

Under the first round of mobility funding for the New Colombo Plan pilot phase announced by the Australian Government in February, around 75 students are undertaking study programs, work placements and other educational experiences here in Singapore. The areas of activity are exciting and diverse and include medicine, nanotechnology, housing policy, TV and video production and cultural studies.

Some study programs have already concluded - indeed, I am advised that a New Colombo Plan participant recently reflected on her time here in Singapore as the best experience of her life. That really is a very strong endorsement for both Singapore and the New Colombo Plan.

I am particularly pleased to welcome tonight New Colombo Plan students from James Cook University’s School of Medicine and Dentistry in Queensland. These students are undertaking a clinical program at the Singapore College of Family Physicians as part of the first round of New Colombo Plan mobility funding.

And last Friday (16 May), Minister Bishop announced a second round of mobility funding offers that will support up to 1,000 additional Australian students to study in the pilot destinations - including many new students who will be coming to Singapore.

The Australian Government will also announce around 10 New Colombo Plan scholarships for Singapore next month.

Tonight, I encourage our James Cook University students to take the opportunity to speak to some of the Singapore alumni who are here this evening to understand the career opportunities and personal and professional development afforded by such a dynamic network.

And I also encourage Singapore alumni members to become involved in the New Colombo Plan. In particular, a hallmark of the New Colombo Plan is the opportunity for Australian students to undertake internship and mentorship experiences in our region. The staff at the Australian High Commission in Singapore or the New Colombo Plan Secretariat in Canberra would be very happy to speak to you about opportunities to provide internships and mentorships as part of the New Colombo Plan.

Kate Duff from the New Colombo Plan Secretariat is actually in the audience tonight and I know she would be delighted for you to come and have a chat to her.


Once again, I would like to thank the Singaporean Government for its enthusiastic support of the New Colombo Plan and its assistance in helping Australia to open up this wonderful program to our undergraduate students.

The New Colombo Plan is an initiative that will help to transform the way young Australians approach their tertiary studies in Australia, encouraging them to see study and work experiences in our region as a ‘rite of passage’ essential to their educational and career development.

And importantly, the New Colombo Plan will help to build stronger people-to-people, university, business, and ultimately country-to-country linkages between our two great nations.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.

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